At the risk of pulling a Captain Obvious, there's no shortage of skincare oils out there. Still, some are more omnipresent than others (we're looking at you, coconut and jojoba) popping up in seemingly every product as a universal panacea for all kinds of beauty issues. And they're great for sure, but when it comes to oils, it's well worth your time and effort to dig a little deeper. Case in point? Meet marula oil. The mega multitasker goes above and beyond the hydrating call of duty, doing all kinds of good things for your complexion. So, we asked the experts to weigh in on marula oil's most standout attributes.
Meet the Expert
- Morgan Rabach, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and cofounder of LM Medical in New York City.
- Jennifer Haley, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and host of the Radiance Revealed podcast.
Keep reading to learn about marula oil and its plethora of benefits, including great antioxidant protection, a lightweight feel, and how it can even help tackle acne.
Type of ingredient: Emollient
Main benefits: Seals-in hydration and softens skin, offers antioxidant protection, has anti-inflammatory effects, has some antibacterial properties.
Who should use it: Marula oil is good for all skin types, says Haley, though, as with most oils, it's especially choice for those with very dry or cracked skin.
How often can you use it: Marula oil can be used daily.
Works well with: There aren't any known ingredients that it should be used with, though Rabach points out it can be layered over products with active ingredients (retinoids, peptides, antioxidants) to help seal them into skin and boost their efficacy.
Don't use with: There are currently no known ingredients that will interact negatively with marula oil, although you can always have too much of a good thing. Avoid using any other oils in your routine to try to better maintain balanced skin.
What Is Marula Oil?
Marula oil is a naturally-occurring oil derived from the marula tree (technical name: Sclerocarya birrea) found in sub-Saharan tropical Africa. The oil can come from either the nuts, seeds, or the fruit of said tree; the nut can be boiled, the seeds pressed, or the fruit processed to extract it. And while it might be the new kid on the beauty block here, it's been used for centuries in Africa as a cure-all, points out Rabach. In its purest state, the oil is a light yellow color with an ever-so-slight nutty scent.
Benefits of Marula Oil for Skin
Like the many (many) other oils out there, yes, marula oil is a great hydrator, but the benefits don't stop there.
- Seals-in moisture: "Marula oil is predominantly used for moisturization and hydration," says Rabach.
- Can be used as an occlusive ingredient: It also has some occlusive tendencies, creating a light layer on top of the skin to seal in moisture. Credit its high levels of fatty acids, namely both oleic and linoleic fatty acids that soften and nourish the skin, explains Haley. Still, it's very lightweight and won't leave behind a greasy residue.
- Similar to skin's own oil: A 2015 study found that the specific profile of fatty acids in marula oil was very similar to the oils naturally found in the skin.
- Won't clog pores: Haley says that marula oil is non-comedogenic, so you don't have to worry about it clogging pores, as is potentially the case with some other oils, like coconut oil.
- Offers antioxidant protection: You already know that antioxidants are a must-have ingredient in your quest for complexion perfection, and marula oil is a good source of these. Namely, it's packed with vitamins C and E, as well as a lesser-known antioxidant: "Marula oil contains the phytochemical epicatechin, which has strong antioxidant properties," explains Haley. And all those antioxidants are choice for helping to stave off the free radicals caused by exposure to UV rays and pollution (which might lead to things like spots and changes in skin texture).
- Has anti-aging benefits: Collagen and elastin—the proteins essential for healthy, youthful skin—are degraded by certain enzymes, which can be inhibited by antioxidants, says Haley, including, yep, those in marula oil. In fact, a 2018 study found that the ingredient was effective at inhibiting the enzymes that break down elastin. It also contains amino acids, specifically L-arginine and glutamic acid, which also have anti-aging properties. Translation: Marula oil can help ward off fine lines and wrinkles.
- Works as an anti-inflammatory: Those same fatty acids that make it so hydrating also help combat inflammation and redness, notes Haley.
- Enhances skin penetration of other products: Marula oil has a high percentage of oleic acid, which means that it can help penetrate the skin more easily.
Side Effects of Marula Oil
Generally speaking, there's a very low risk of any type of side effects with marula. Still, as with any type of cosmetic ingredient, natural or not, there's always a risk of an actual allergy, cautions Rabach. If you're concerned, try any product containing it on a small area on your arm first (as a patch test) before slathering it all over your face. And as always, any allergy concerns should be directed at your dermatologist.
How to Use It
As with most oils, you can either use it straight up or look for it cocktailed with other ingredients in a serum or moisturizer. For the former, seek out pure or virgin marula oil, as it might have a higher concentration of those good-for-your-skin antioxidants than a refined version. Both dermatologists we spoke with also say it can be used daily. If you're using it on its own, you can apply it as the very last step of your skincare routine at night, or before your sunscreen during the day.
What are the benefits of marula oil?
Marula oil is rich in antioxidants, helps seal in moisture, and has anti-aging benefits, including reducing elastin breakdown.
Is marula oil good for acne-prone skin?
Studies have shown that marula oil is a non-irritating, safe choice for most, if not all skin types.
What is the difference between marula and argan oil?
Argan oil tends to have a thinner, more lightweight consistency than marula and may be better suited for those with oily, acne-prone skin. Marula oil is high in oleic acid and has a slightly thicker consistency and may be considered best for dry skin types.
Komane B, Vermaak I, Summers B, Viljoen A. Safety and efficacy of Sclerocarya birrea (A.rich.) hochst (marula) oil: a clinical perspective. J Ethnopharmacol. 2015;176:327-335. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2015.10.037
Shoko T, Maharaj VJ, Naidoo D, et al. Anti-aging potential of extracts from Sclerocarya birrea (A. rich.) hochst and its chemical profiling by UPLC-Q-TOF-MS. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2018;18(1):54. doi:10.1186/s12906-018-2112-1